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The Fire Next Time

4.35 of 5 stars 4.35  ·  rating details  ·  11,053 ratings  ·  513 reviews
A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin's early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of t ...more
Paperback, First Vintage International edition, 120 pages
Published February 1993 by Vintage (first published 1963)
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Best African American Books
25th out of 561 books — 669 voters
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Books White People Need To Read
12th out of 269 books — 541 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Rowena
Baldwin doles out some tough love to the American people, 100 years after Emancipation, and also writes to his 14-year old nephew about the race issue in America. I have never read any of Baldwin’s nonfiction so I was surprised at how frank and direct he was.

The letter to the American people was more compelling to me than the one to his nephew. It discussed the racist realities in the USA, and also religion, Christianity (which James Baldwin adhered to, for a while at least) and the Nation of Is
...more
Aubrey
Something very sinister happens to the people of a country when they begin to distrust their own reactions as deeply as they do here, and become as joyless as they have become. It is this individual uncertainty on the part of white American men and women, this inability to renew themselves at the fountain of their own lives, that makes the discussion, let alone elucidation, of any conundrum—that is, any reality—so supremely difficult. The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reali
...more
Nicole~
The Fire Next Time (1963)
from Baldwin: Collection of Essays - The Library of America

This book is Baldwin's opinion on race relations, perceived not only as a Negro, but as one with a deep insight into human psychology. He was one of the unprecedented writers to express what it was like to be Negro in a white society; to discuss with such insight the psychological impediments most Negroes faced; and to realize the complications of Negro-white relations in many variant contexts:

On Religion
He sa
...more
Mariel
Nov 17, 2013 Mariel rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: dungeon shook
Recommended to Mariel by: Eric
The universe, which is not merely the stars and the moon
and the planets, flowers, grass, and trees, but other people,
has evolved no terms for your existence, has made no room for you, and
if love will not swing wide the gates, no other power will or can. And
if one despairs- as who has not?- of human love, God's alone is left.
But God- and I felt this even then, so long ago, on that tremendous
floor, unwillingly- is white. And if his love was so great, and if He
loved all his children, why were we, t
...more
Zanna
First read in 2008.

This book is so beautiful and clear. Baldwin has forced himself, against all the violence heaped upon him and those around him, not to see through hatred and think through hatred, which would be just after all. He outlines and touches on so many of the issues that are still real and painful in America and in the UK too, where white supremacy persists like a weed that keeps springing back up. It's almost depressing to read his words in 1963, words of courageous optimism and hop
...more
Eric
Dated? Not at all.

It can be objected that I am speaking of political freedom in spiritual terms, but the political institutions of any nation are always menaced and are ultimately controlled by the spiritual state of that nation. We are controlled here by our confusion, far more than we know, and the American dream has therefore become something much more closely resembling a nightmare, on the private, domestic, and international levels. Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine
...more
Joe
Written almost 50 years ago during the Civil Rights era, these two works (a letter and an essay) afford the 21st Century reader a solid no-holds barred picture of life lived through apartheid America as seen through the eyes of a black man.

I had a hard copy in college (in the 80s) of this book and thought it was too angry and unfortunately never read it in its entirety (only 100 pages mind you). Listening now as I’ve lived life a little, I see that it was my inability to process and interpret he
...more
Kinga
Everybody should read this book. Not only because it is extremely written, not repetetive (like some essays can be), to the point and just bloody brilliant but above all because sadly it is still relevant. If you think that musings of a black gay man reflecting on America in the 50s somehow have nothing to do with you then do yourself a favour and read it. It is only 80 pages, not like I am asking you to read War and Peace.
I want to believe that the World has come a long way since the 50s. I am
...more
Ken Moten
Jun 20, 2015 Ken Moten rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People
"Color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality. But this is a distinction so extremely hard to make that the West has not been able to make it yet."

This was an interesting read by a very interesting man. The book is a collection of two publications: a letter to his nephew on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and an article in which he recounts his time as a pentecostal minister and his encounters with Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X as well as the NOI m
...more
Jo-sie
*falls to the ground*
*opens arms*
TAKE ME, GAWD.

I wanna find Baldwin and hug him and cry into his arms and tell him thanks.

Wow.

Why isn't this mandatory reading?
I don't get it.

It's impossible to 'review' this book. All I want to do is shout and tell everyone to read it. I don't know whether some people think it is outdated, but if that is the case, I would like to say that it isn't. I was reading this book and thinking about the state of America, right now. Thinking about the Black American expe
...more
Melanie
A 98 page game changer. I wish I could drum up more than that, but I'm wowed senseless.



“There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves.”
― James Baldwin

Sharla
The rating of four stars is intended to indicate that we “really like” a book. I can’t say this book was entertaining or extremely enjoyable to read but I certainly considered it important enough for four stars. Introspection and self-examination are not always enjoyable but necessary and desirable. I was prompted to read the book by a quote shared on facebook. As often happens, someone else wanted to argue about the meaning of the quote. The quote was, “If the concept of God has any validity or ...more
Michael
Existential, ruthless, humane and lucid. Baldwin is one of humanity’s wisemen. His insight goes so far beyond the context it is most often given in that one cannot but wonder what poor corners of this world might never hear his message. He cuts through social institutions,

“The word ‘safety’ brings us to the real meaning of the word ‘religious’ as we use it.”

while exerting the compassion of their messiahs,

“The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you (Baldwin’s nephew) must accept them (whi
...more
Curtis Ackie
Baldwin’s understanding of the struggle eases the pain, and his compassion fills the heart. It is surely a sign of brilliance that he makes the tying together of his words seem so effortless.
Adam
Nov 02, 2008 Adam rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who thinks or acts or relates to other people
Another book that I re-read recently. This book consists of two pieces; Baldwin's letter to his nephew and an essay. Both pieces gave me great insight into race relations and white racism.

Baldwin recounts his childhood, growing up in Harlem, including reflections on his experiences in the church, his observations of poverty, and his run-ins with hustlers and the street-life. He combines this with a passionate and convincing psychological and sociological inquiry into racism.

In both pieces, Baldw
...more
Barry Pierce
I don't know how to review this. It feels almost wrong reviewing such important letters. These letters are powerful and important and really worth your while.
Joe B.Ck.T
How do you write a review for ANY work by James Baldwin? The Fire Next Time...?

You don’t!

Amazing, untimely, and hauntingly prophetic. Massively tiny tome of brilliance.

Should be read by every human being on the planet!
Karen
Mar 22, 2013 Karen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People + Susan
Recommended to Karen by: Mast Bookstore
I find it impossible to believe that this book was once the #1 best seller in this nation (Just try to imagine that! Current best seller: "home front" all lowercase, superimposed on a pastel beach scene with a picturesque shabby-chic candle-lantern in the foreground. In the background, soft-focus, we see a white family standing on the sand in jeans, looking outward, watching the sunrise, or something more unearthly than the sunrise... the eerie light that will surely precede the second coming of ...more
Micah
Consisting of two polemical letters (one short, one long), James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time is a clear-eyed assessment of American racism at the 100-year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Baldwin is uncompromisingly critical of U.S. race relations in the early 1960s, and he articulates his view with a passionate, devastating clarity that is at once bitter and full of love. The writing here is simply masterful. The Fire Next Time is surely among the great African American rhetorical ...more
Andrew
James Baldwin, like his fellow travellers Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, has a tired, almost beat-down quality that clearly speaks of a haggard frustration with the state of the race, and the state of humanity in general. When I read these guys, I almost feel as if writing was a last resort. If they couldn't battle the man in day to day existence, at least they've got this last arrow in their quiver.

The point of these essays is simple: there are no easy answers. The Nation of Islam seems like
...more
Robb Todd
James Badlwin might be America's greatest writer. If you haven't heard many, or any, people say this, you should ask yourself why that is.

The Fire Next Time is brilliant and, sadly, still relevant. America is a different place in many ways, but in many other ways it is exactly the same. And always will be.

This book is required reading for anyone who desires to understand America more fully--and Baldwin correctly asserts that many of us don't want that.

Baldwin demands we look into our hearts an
...more
Colleen Clark
A brilliant and angry book, as timely today in 2015 as it was when it was first published in 1962. (Baldwin was born in 1924 and died in 1987).

As those of us who are not black have become painfully aware nothing in the lives of black Americans has changed in 53 years. Our president is black and the deep antagonism to him by too many Americans has nothing to do with his politics and everything to do with his race. The police are trigger happy and violent, killing blacks who walk in the street (Fe
...more
Stephen
It baffles me when I come across someone who can pose their argument in so clear and concise a manner as Baldwin does in these two letters. Similar to Giovanni's Room, he conveys so much in a text that's even shorter than the aforementioned book! The eloquence of his language is as captivating as it is to the point. The only thing I can criticize is why to high heaven aren't we reading Baldwin in school?
Juanita Rice
This book seemed to scare the liberal world to death. Baldwin had been a literary lion until its appearance. And then he was no longer "acceptable." The historical impact of the book may be more telling than even the scathing and challenging challenges it issued.
Nancy Mott
This is slim book of passionate essays is an important book, justifiably on lists of 'books white people should read.' As well as black people.

I got it from the library but will keep my eyes open for a copy for my shelves. Besides the quotes on its main age I found this important (p. 102):

Baldwin's father has died and his mother given birth to his youngest sibling on the same day:
"I knew...that bitterness was folly. The dead man mattered, the new life mattered; blackness and whiteness did not m
...more
Abailart
Written in 1963 as "the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon", this is as relevant almost fifty years later. The sheer ugliness of American racism is now embedded in the discourses that hide it, those gentile liberal nicenesses that serve exactly the same bourgeois lackey function in keeping hidden the vicious oppression of the ghettoised and oppressed in every 'liberal democracy' with their fine glows of meritocracies and equalities. Such discourses are ...more
Craig Werner
Additional comment following my 9,234th reading.
What struck me this time through, in the wake of Trayvon Martin and Ferguson (and countless other cases that didn't make the news) is that Baldwin's warning is at least as immediate today as it was just before the Rodney King riots. I can see no reason to believe we're not on the verge of another explosion, the only difference (and in some ways the LA riot wasn't different) being that the bitterness and rage that were centered in the black communit
...more
Patrick
The major theme of the text is the racial relationship in America in 1961. The novel begins with a letter to Baldwin's nephew on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The novel moves into the life of the author and what it was like to grow up in Harlem. The text is a recapitulation of Baldwin's entrance into the church as his life as a young preacher. The connection to Mountain is an interesting connection.

The storyline moves into an exploration of the Nation of Islam. Mr. Bal
...more
Tinea
Oct 12, 2009 Tinea rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Tinea by: Dirk
Shelves: race-and-racism
This was not my time to read this book.

Though quite short, I got completely lost in Baldwin's ruminations. The Fire Next Time is a disjointed mixture of personal anecdotes about religion and broad philosophical indictments of white supremacy.

Baldwin relates a few negative experiences that he's had with Christianity and the Nation of Islam, including a very strange dinner party with Nation of Islam prophet Elijah Muhammed. If Baldwin was using these stories to make a larger point about religion
...more
Scroutch
Fucking A, James Baldwin. Why does everything you write come out so fucking brilliantly? Yours is the most impassioned dispassion, the most dispassionate passion. You have an insanely critical eye for everything and everyone. You have this skepticism coupled with a profound self-confidence that manifests itself as confidence in other people even as you maintain critical distance, skeptical hope... brilliant brilliant brilliant... I wish I could maintain the same sort of critical distance from yo ...more
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2015 Reading Chal...: The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin 1 9 May 17, 2015 09:38AM  
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

James Arthur Baldwin was an American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.

James Baldwin offered a vital literary voice during the era of civil rights activism in the 1950s and '60s. The eldest of nine children, his stepfather was a minister. At age 14, Bal
...more
More about James Baldwin...
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“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” 1123 likes
“Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death--ought to decide, indeed, to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.” 262 likes
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